Effort to decriminalize prostitution in Louisiana fails in Legislature
A bill to decriminalize prostitution failed in a Louisiana House committee Tuesday after a hearing in which current and former sex workers delivered sometimes emotional testimony about being marginalized because of their occupation.
New Orleans Democratic state Rep. Mandie Landry voluntarily deferred her House Bill 67 to decriminalize prostitution after it was clear the House Criminal Justice Committee was going to kill it on a vote.
Landry and other supporters emphasized the bill wouldn't legalize prostitution or rollback laws against sex trafficking, which forces people, including minors, into sex work.
But opponents testified that decriminalization would increase trafficking, wreck more lives and sends the wrong message to children.
Landry said she believes her bill is the first such measure to be heard in Louisiana's Legislature or any other state legislature.
"They have never, ever had their voices heard in this building and they have every right to be here," she said.
Former sex workers like Lakeesha Harris, who now works for Women with a Vision in New Orleans, testified that criminalization of sex work makes it harder for prostitutes to access health care, government IDs, police protection and housing because of criminal records.
"They are policed for nothing more than putting food on the table," said Harris, who said prostitution helped her raise six children and send them to school and college.
A'Niya Robinson of the Louisiana ACLU said criminalization "makes it next to impossible (for sex workers) to change careers" because of their criminal records.
One former prostitute said she was afraid to go to police after she was raped for fear of being arrested herself, a story repeated by other supporters of the Landry's bill.
"Current laws are more about mandating morality rather than keeping people safe," said Meghan Garvey of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "The time has come to change this law."
But Sheri Lockridge, a member of the human trafficking task force at the Covenant House Youth Shelter in New Orleans, said current laws against prostitution "are used to protect the most vulnerable for trafficking."
"(Decriminalization) gives traffickers permission to entice ... and puts far too many youth being the next at risk," Lockridge said.
John Raymond, a Slidell minister who is also a member of the Louisiana Republican Party's State Central Committee, testified decriminalizing prostitution would wreck more marraiges and prevent sex workers from pursuing legal careers.
"Legalizing sin never solves problems in the long run," Raymond said.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.